What Millennials Want from Work - 4 Essentials

Yesterday, I spent the day interviewing top talent for Boeing’s highly-competitive, early career business leadership rotation program (the Business Career Foundation Program). Candidates’ resumes were beyond impressive, packed with relevant internships, student leadership, community involvement, and academic excellence. More importantly, behind each resume, I saw solid work ethic, humility, inclusivity, and a hunger to make a difference. This early career talent is equipped and eager to enter the workforce, ready to powerfully impact the way we do business. My concern is, are we equipped and ready for them?

Companies are scrambling, trying to figure out how to best attract and retain Millennials. I have managed recruitment strategies and development programs for new college hires off and on for many years, trying to figure out this strategy myself. Here’s what I’ve learned…

  1. Purpose is top priority; and there are two parts to it. Part I - Millennials want to have purpose. They need to know that they are adding significant value to the organization and that their work has meaning. Part II – They want to work for an organization that has a worthy purpose; one with which they connect. Connection to this purpose motivates them more than pay, benefits, or other fun perks, like ping-pong tables at the office. 
  2. Job flexibility is a must. This includes things like telecommuting and alternative work schedules. Judging work performance based on output and quality, not on the number of hours spent at their desks, is the way they want to be evaluated. Millennials value work-life balance, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get the job done. If you show them trust by providing flexibility, they’ll go above and beyond to exceed expectations. 
  3. Challenge them or lose them. Millennials are used to being pushed to the max. They grew up playing three sports, while taking piano lessons, while participating in school clubs, while volunteering, and while still excelling at school. They would rather have too much to do than not enough and find value in being pushed. Busy work won’t cut it; they want complex tasks. Challenging, meaningful work (and a lot of it) is key to keeping them engaged.
  4. Lastly, Millennials want bosses who spend more time coaching and developing them than micro-managing their work. They want leaders who care about them as a whole person, not just an employee, who provide frequent feedback, and who value their opinions and ideas. If your managers are not capable of leading in this way, you will lose talent.

If you create a culture that embraces all four elements outlined above, congratulations, you are on your way to effectively attracting and engaging Millennials; but unfortunately, despite your best efforts, there is no promise for dramatic improvement in retention. Gallup’s research shows that Millennials change jobs more often than other generations; in fact, more than half of them are looking for a new job right now. Will culture change extend their stay with you? Yes…but they will still likely leave at some point. They are a generation of adventure and committing to one organization does not feel like adventure to them. So, the more important questions to ask are: What will they say about you when they’re gone? Will they tell their friends how great you are? Will they want to come back some day?

By 2020, Millennials will comprise half of the workforce. They are bringing a new reality to the workplace. We have to adjust to this new reality; they won’t adjust to the old ways, nor do they have to, seeing as they’ll be the majority in a few years. They are bringing so much passion, purpose, and balance to the workplace – if we truly listen to them, embrace new approaches, and learn to adapt, we will benefit greatly from this new reality…and honestly, I think we’ll kind of love it in the end.


Abbey Louie

Abbey uses over a decade of talent management experience to help organizations drive business results through enhanced employee engagement. She is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to be their best. She's also a mom to two sweet girls, a wife to one good man, and a fan of running and hosting dinner parties.